Thursday, January 20, 2005

My Reputation Proceeds Me

As children, most parents teach simple rules. Girls are taught to be "lady-like" and told that they have to wear shirts when playing sports outside on hot summer days. They are given dolls and dress-up clothes. They have tea parties and as they mature they have sleepovers with makeovers. Little boys are rarely dressed in skirts and hardly ever wear bows in their hair. Boys are encouraged to play rough sports like football and hockey. When little girls join in, boys are told to play gentle. Boys are told to not hit girls.

As a little girl, I hated bows in my hair. I despised dresses and I always wanted to join in the pick-up games of field hockey and touch football. I never wanted to hurt the other kids. I expected the same consideration. I did know that sometimes you get hurt playing sports, but intentional hitting bothered me. I was six.

Beth six

It was winter, 1984 was drawing to a close and I was attending kindergarten at Hayes Elementary School in Fridley, Minnesota. It was my first year of big kid school. My family had just moved to Minnesota the August before and I was getting to know all the kids in the neighborhood.

Making friends has never been a problem for me. Being an only child may have something to do with it. I could entertain myself, but sometimes I wanted to have other kids around to share stories and play games and laugh. When my family lived in Iowa, we lived in a quiet neighborhood and most of the kids were at least a couple of years older. That was not a problem. If I saw someone who was not fully-grown yet, he or she could be my friend. Well, anyone could be my friend. I had many a conversation with the garbage man.

When my dad was laid off from his construction job, our family moved from our house in the country to a small apartment in Waterloo, Iowa. We left the neighborhood that I knew and loved and moved to a lower-class apartment complex. Looking back, I can see the difference, but as a kid, it didn't phase me. I remember missing my best friend, Amy*. I missed my old room with the Big Bird in the corner. Big Bird got "lost in the move." I swear I was 10 before I realized that my parents just threw him out. Other than Amy and Big Bird, I didn't miss too much. There were other kids in the new neighborhood and I just made friends with them.

We only lived in that complex for a few months before my dad got a job in Minnesota. Our family moved to Fridley. The first home we had in Fridley was a town-home complex. At the complex, there were enough kids to have one bus take all the kids to school. Each school day, I would go to the bus stop and wait for the bus to arrive.

Before the school bus arrived to pick us up, the kids would play games of tag and talk and have fun. There was one boy at my bus stop. His name was Jason. (He's not the same Jason who I wrote about here.) Jason was the first time I had ever run into a bully.

Every day, Jason would pick on me and hit me and just be mean. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but his words still hurt. He wouldn't let up until I cried each and every day. None of the other kids were mean to me. In fact, they were really nice to me. I don't think Jason had many friends.

At least three days a week, I would run home, crying to my mom. I would tell her all about the mean things he said to me. She listened patiently as I told her about him hitting me. After three weeks, my mom got sick of having to walk me back to the bus stop and wait for the bus to take me to school. She finally told me, "The next time he picks on you, make a fist like this [she demonstrated a fist] and swing." Now, my mom didn't teach me how to throw a punch correctly, but it the effectiveness of it still sticks in my memory. She held her arm straight out. Imagine a cheerleader imitating the letter "T". Now, drop one of the arms. The swing involved moving my arm in a 90 degree angle so that my right arm was sticking out in front of me.

By this time, it was a little cooler out. Well, snow had already fallen and I was now going to school wearing a hat, a scarf, a snowsuit, mittens, and my "moon" boots. I hated those boots. Jason decided to pick on me again. Remembering how to throw a punch like my mom taught me, I set up and swung.

Contact! My swing knocked Jason on the side of his head. I made direct contact with his left ear. The temperature had dropped a bit and I managed to crack his skin. He was bleeding. It was time for all out war.

By the time the bus arrived; I had Jason pinned down on the ground and we were hitting each other. Imagine two six-year olds rolling around in the snow, complete with snowsuits and winter gear. Jason was crying. All the girls at the bus stop were cheering. The school may have had a problem with it, but I got into no trouble at home. My mom was proud of me.
Jason moved away during winter break. I never saw him again. But the legacy of that day survived all the way until graduation.

For years, the boys at the bus stop tried to "white-wash" the girls. They would grab other kids and shove their faces into the snow. I was never once white-washed. The boys also learned quickly that if they went near a girl to white-wash her, I would be there backing her up.
In middle school, two boys a grade above me were fighting in the hallway. They annoyed me. I told them to stop. One of the boys cocked his fist back and made like he was going to throw a punch in my direction. The other actually grabbed his hand and said to him, "Do you know who she is? Don't do it man."

The thing is, I'm a wimp. I can't fight worth a darn. I have not been in a fistfight since that day in kindergarten, but image is everything. The image kept me out of a lot of trouble in high school. People didn't invoke fights with my close friends or me. No one wanted to be against me in a fight. I never challenged the image.


*Amy lived across the street from us. She was also an only child but two years older. I remember sleepovers and we both enjoyed Lite-Brite and PEZ. I had a Wonder Woman PEZ dispenser and she did too. We would eat the candy and then run down the hallway, yelling, "Wonder Woman!" Sometime, I'll have to share more stories about Amy.


At 8:30 AM, CarpeDM thought...

Quick comment before work.

I love this story. I remember hearing this before and thinking it was great but don't remember you telling me about the guy saying "Do you know who she is?"


At 1:42 PM, The Lioness thought...

You do kick ass, always said so! Lovely pics. I wish you'd been around to prevent me from being beaten once in a while. Being small and frail sucked rock majorly!

At 4:15 PM, Firebear thought...

I love this story! Thank you!

At 7:17 PM, Matt thought...

I love it! I remember hearing this story before, and I still have the same smile on my face now as I did then. I agree with the Lioness, you kick ass! It is nice to know that my little sister can take care of herself if she needs to, that is just awesome. I loved this story, I truly did.